Matt Lauer Asks, Is Female Work-Life Balance a Taboo Subject?

When Matt Lauer interviewed General Motors CEO Mary Barra last week, he asked her if she could both run her company and be a mother. He wondered, “Can you do both well?” Of course Barra answered yes, she can. She talked about the supportive teams that enable her, both at home and in her workplace. Lauer immediately came under fire, sparking articles about how not to interview a female CEO. Critics deemed his question sexist, and they questioned whether Lauer had ever asked a male CEO about his ability to be both father and business leader. 

This morning The Today Show held a follow-up discussion about juggling work and parenthood. The hosts invited working mothers Martha Stewart and Kathie Lee Gifford to talk about their personal experiences. Lauer responded to the backlash by emphasizing that his question was a response to a previous interview in which Barra said, “My kids just told me the one job they are going to hold me accountable for is mom.” 

He went on: “If a male CEO were to come out and say, ‘I am very upset I missed my son’s prom and I think my kids are going to hold me accountable for one job and that is a father,’ then yes we’d ask that male CEO that question!” 

Lauer’s fellow hosts bolstered his defense. Tamron Hall asked, “If we’re afraid to have the conversation because we’re going to guilt each other, how can we ever have a valid, reasonable exchange of information?” Stewart and Gifford agreed that Lauer’s question shouldn’t be taboo. 

On the perennial question of work-life balance, The Today Show highlighted PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who spoke about her “mom guilt” at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday. She said she misses most of her daughters’ morning class coffees, and that if she asked her kids, she’s not sure they would say she’s a good mom. Her point? “I don’t think women can have it all.” 

Stewart agreed: “You can’t have it all. You can try, and I think you really have to have that backup team at home.” Gifford thinks women can have it all, just not at the same time. “You have to decide what kind of joy you want in your life,” she said. 

We're pleased to feature Indra Nooyi in our upcoming WOMEN IN BUSINESS documentary, airing on PBS October 28. In the meantime, hear other MAKERS give their perspective on balancing work and family:


Xerox CEO Ursula Burns on Redefining Balance

Human Rights Advocate Malika Saada Saar on Finding Balance in Modern Marriage

Artist Laura Owens on Scheduling Time for Family, Art, and Business